We Need to Drive Forward This Fundamentally Positive Trend
Given the ever-increasing distances covered and ever-growing volume of road goods transport in the EU – a trend observed for a number of years now – as well as the simultaneously decreasing number of fatalities and injuries, primarily in the case of accidents involving heavy-duty commercial vehicles, it is clear that road safety has increased considerably. Nevertheless, the severe accidents that still occur make it clear that a lot of work still needs to be done when it comes to vehicle safety, infrastructure and, above all, the human factor.
Whether it’s tightly scheduled route plans, tight deadlines, congestion, stress, fatigue, a lack of parking spaces, distraction by text messages or operating a navigation system, poor weather and road conditions and various other factors, professional drivers have to deal with a whole host of external influences during their day-to-day work. They also need to simultaneously focus on the actual task of driving, which gives them a huge responsibility. Just one moment of distraction or a sudden microsleep can quickly have devastating consequences – for everyone involved.
The fact is that human error is the biggest cause of accidents involving goods transport vehicles. Accident researchers believe that around 90 percent of these accidents across Europe can be attributed to “human error,” although it is of course not only goods transport vehicle drivers who are at fault. Even though goods transport vehicles are less frequently involved in accidents resulting in personal injury in relation to the number of kilometers they travel, action is still required especially given that the consequences for the other party involved in these accidents are usually much more severe than those for the occupants of goods transport vehicles.
Transport companies and freight forwarders alone can therefore make a significant contribution to improving road safety by making their drivers and any subcontractors even more aware of safety issues. Alongside intelligence, training and further education courses for professional drivers are incredibly important – as already covered in detail in “The Human Factor” section of this report. In addition, efficient occupational health management as well as regular health checks are critical for maintaining efficiency and a sense of wellbeing – and, in turn, minimizing the risk of accidents.
Regarding the vehicles themselves, the potential for optimization is far from exhausted. Heavy-duty trucks in particular are now truly high-tech vehicles. Continuous improvements have been made not only to the structure and equipment of driver cabs but also to the trucks’ driving characteristics. In addition to the purely mechanical measures of partner protection to the front, rear and side of the vehicle, modern electronic driver assistance systems further enhance protection for truck occupants and other road users. Regardless of whether vehicle dynamics control systems such as ESC, adaptive cruise control (ACC), emergency braking assist, lane assist or turning assistance systems are used – they all help to prevent accidents or mitigate their consequences.
Despite efficient assistance systems, anticipatory driving is still essential
Equipping vehicles with an ever-increasing number of assistance systems will certainly take us closer toward “Vision Zero,” a society in which road accidents do not result in fatalities or serious injuries. But it is crucially important that drivers are fully aware of how the systems work so that they do not disable the “wrong” system – the life-saving emergency brake assist, for example – because they do not know enough about the technology. Drivers must also remember that assistance systems cannot override the laws of physics. They do not increase brake power, for example, and they cannot shorten the braking distance of a vehicle on wet or slippery road surfaces.
Also, it is essential that all such electronic systems function properly throughout the vehicle’s service life. Only in this way can they have their desired impact. Regular vehicle inspections will therefore become even more important than they already are, not least because of the growing complexity of the systems and the risk of electronic tampering.
To conclude, however, we must not lose sight of one clear fact, as stated in the previous years’ DEKRA road safety reports: To prevent hazardous road situations in the first place, responsible behavior, a proper assessment of one’s own capabilities and a high level of acceptance of rules among all road users are – and remain – absolutely essential. In particular, the risk of being involved in a road accident can be decreased on a sustained basis by adopting an anticipatory and defensive driving style.